Buffalo Bills Draft: Top 5 at 25

Buffalo currently owns the 25th pick in the NFL Draft this Thursday night. General manager Brandon Beane has an opportunity to add an impact player to an already loaded roster. With very few positions of need, many expect cornerback or even running back to be the pick. Keeping in mind some team tendencies, let’s take a look at the top five players I would expect to see the Buffalo Bills draft.

Buffalo Bills draft prospect Kyler Gordon
AP Photo / John Hefti

Kyler Gordon CB Washington

Kyler Gordon is an athletic freak at cornerback who posted a Relative Athletic Score of 9.69. His agility and explosiveness scores are particularly impressive. Washington has a long history of preparing quality defensive backs for the league, and Gordon is no exception. He has excellent zone coverage traits and is a strong, willing tackler against the run. For my money, I expect Gordon to be the pick at 25.

Daxton Hill DB Michigan

Daxton Hill is a versatile defensive back who I wouldn’t be surprised to see go in the mid-to-late teens. He played safety for Michigan, but could play any secondary position at a high level. His versatility would be a huge asset to the Bills, as he could fill the CB2 role in the short term and also become the long-term Jordan Poyer replacement if we are unable to agree on an extension. He is an exceptional athlete and would bring elite speed to the Bills secondary.

Zion Johnson IOL Boston College

Another player who should be gone before the Bills pick, Zion Johnson has experience all over the line and projects as a plus starter on the interior. Johnson could compete immediately with Ryan Bates and then be the long-term answer at left guard after Roger Saffold’s tenure ends. Johnson began his career at Davidson and has fought to earn every opportunity. This type of background is consistent throughout the Buffalo Bills draft history.

Breece Hall RB Iowa State

I believe that Beane would be willing to take a running back at 25 if he was the top player on their board. Breece Hall is a young and explosive back who brings an entirely new element to the current RB room. He has plus ability as a pass catcher and can turn a sliver of daylight into a home run. I am generally against round one running backs, but I do love the idea of what Hall would bring to this offense.

Andrew Booth Jr. CB Clemson

On tape, Andrew Booth looks to be a special athlete and excellent all-around corner. His ball skills and aggressive tackling are exciting traits. The issue with Booth is mainly injury related. He does not have a testing profile due to multiple core injuries that cast doubt on his draft position. If the Bills feel comfortable with the medicals, he would be a slam dunk at 25.

Wildcard: Jahan Dotson WR Penn State

Jahan Dotson is an electric play-maker at wide receiver and has been compared to Emmanuel Sanders. He lacks size, but has the best hands in the class and has a shockingly large catch radius. Dotson would be a dynamic slot option and a seamless fit in the offense. If the Bills want to continue surrounding Allen with receiving options, Dotson could be a surprise pick at 25.

The Patriots Defense Has a Josh Allen Problem

The Patriots defense has a big problem on their hands. How will they work on fixing this problem before it’s too late

Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images

Pats Can’t Stop Allen

The Patriots defense has a big problem on their hands: Josh Allen, the 6’5”, 237 lbs, has a cannon for a right arm, and wears number 17 for the Buffalo Bills.

With 13:48 remaining in the third quarter of week 14, the Patriots would see Bills punter Matt Haack for the last time. In the next 20 Bills’ possessions against the Patriots, Haack would be missing-in-action as they went without a punt against a division rival.

When the Patriots left Orchard Park that Monday night in December, they were in first place in the AFC East and controlled their destiny for the top seed in the playoffs. They would return to lose four of their next five games, including two complete dominations at the hands of the rival Buffalo Bills.

In the Bills’ next 20 possessions following that final Haack punt, they would score 11 touchdowns. Of the other nine possessions, they attempted three field goals and turned the ball over on downs twice –once at the New England 14-yard line to end the Monday Night showdown, and the other at the New England 1-yard line in the Week 16 rematch. The remaining four possessions were kneel downs at the end of a half or the end of the game.

Not good.

The Bills’ absolute bludgeoning of the Pats in the final 9 7/8 quarters against them was largely due to Allen. He was supernova hot after that final Haack punt. After Haack punted on the Bills first possession of the week 14 matchup, Allen would go 59 of 89 for 710 yards, eight touchdowns and zero interceptions, while adding 162 yards on 21 carries in the next 129:15 of game time against the Pats. The Bills would outscore the Patriots during that same stretch 83-41.

Not good.

Allen Offers Massive Roadblock for Pats

How far the Patriots go from here is largely dependent on how they can handle their Josh Allen problem. The defense requires a compete reboot to give the Patriots a legitimate chance at reclaiming the throne atop the AFC East, let alone advancing in the playoffs. The AFC is flush with talented young quarterbacks, but getting over the hump against Allen should be the Patriots’ top priority as he remains within their division. Start there before focusing on the conference.

The Patriots defense faded down the stretch, putting up clunker after clunker after the bye week. For a stretch in the middle of the season, the defense played lights out. They dominated opponents. They racked up sacks and piled up the takeaways.

After the bye, it all stopped.

Perhaps not coincidentally, this sag in performance coincided with Matt Judon also largely disappearing. Before contracting COVID-19 during the bye week, Judon had 12.5 sacks and was constantly disruptive. After the bye, he failed to record a single sack.

Recent Drafts to Blame?

The Patriots have also gotten next to no production from recent day two draft picks. Chase Winovich was taken 77th overall in 2019. The high energy pass rusher had six total tackles this year and no sacks.

The Patriots traded up to draft Josh Uche 60th overall in 2020, and he produced only 10 tackles and 3.0 sacks this year; all three sacks came in the first two weeks of the season.

Anfernee Jennings was taken 87 overall in 2020. He has 10 career tackles, all from his rookie campaign. Finally, there’s Ronnie Perkins, taken as a pass rush specialist this past draft at 96th overall. He was a healthy scratch for 13 games before being placed on IR.

16 tackles and three sacks for the 2020 season from four top 100 prospects over the past three years. For a defense that was completely outmatched against the Bills, this area would be a good place to start.

All four of these players are known to be fast-twitch pass rushers with high motors. While they may not be three-down players, they should be offering more value than they have. For comparison, Logan Wilson of the Cincinnati Bengals had nine tackles (three for a loss), and one pass defensed in the Super Bowl. Wilson was taken five picks after Uche in the 2020 NFL draft.

Belichick is known for shapeshifting his defensive game plan to match his opponents’ strengths on a week-to-week basis. Perhaps the complex roles and differing approaches is leaving young players lost and confused. Belichick’s best defenses have often been veteran-laden units.

However, Belichick always seems to be able to unlock players’ potential by maximizing their talents within his defensive scheme. The examples are endless. Aqib Talib. Kyle Van Noy. Akiem Hicks. Part two of Patrick Chung. The disconnect here is more than scheme fit or ability, and that is worrisome.

Offseason Plans

This offseason becomes even more important if an in-house fix isn’t available. Making the front seven a more explosive and faster unit should be priority number one. Ja’Whaun Bentley, Dont’a Hightower, and Jamie Collins are set to be free agents, and all are solid in their own respect.

Losing a leader like Hightower would shake the locker room and lead to a decrease in the on-field product. Collins should stick around on the cheap as a solid role player. Meanwhile, Bentley had a down 2020 before looking much better surrounded by increased talent in 2021, and might be tough to keep.

The Patriots should look to add in free agency and the draft to inject talent into the front seven. Moreover, free agency is littered with intriguing names. The draft is relatively deep in the first along the defensive line, but top linebackers may be in short supply. Regardless, the Patriots need to address their Josh Allen problem or there will be more disappointed offseasons in the future.

Where do the Patriots fit in a crowded AFC?

While the Patriots may have the future figured out on offense, they aren’t going anywhere until they figure out the Josh Allen problem.

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND – NOVEMBER 03: Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots reacts against the Baltimore Ravens during the fourth quarter at M&T Bank Stadium on November 3, 2019 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)

At first glance, discussing the New England Patriots and their offseason plans aren’t relevant at this point. The Bengals and Chiefs will face off this Sunday in the AFC Championship Game. Before that, the Chiefs and Bills treated us to an all-time shoot out in the divisional round. All three teams feature prolific young passers and a group of stud pass catchers. Only the Bills featured a defense ranked in the top 5 by Pro Football Reference. The days of defenses winning championships may well be over.

So where do the Patriots fit into this future of the conference?

They too feature a young passer, albeit not in the same echelon of Burrow, Mahomes, Herbert, and Allen. Lamar Jackson had a down year but still would be a tier above Mac in a quarterback rankings.

The Patriots got solid quarterback play from their rookie but Mac faded down the stretch, stringing together subpar performances as the Patriots championship aspiration dwindled.

Watching the Chiefs and Bills go back and forth Sunday Night it was obvious that the AFC has transformed into an arms race, where the most potent offenses will succeed.

Belichick has only a few times loaded up on the offensive side of the ball during his tenure in New England. And even in those years he coupled splashy offseason moves on the offensive side with an already stout, veteran-laden defense.

2021 Patriots were good, just not good enough

The 2021 Patriots featured the splashy offseason additions on the offensive side of the ball and a veteran-laden defense, albeit with a couple newcomers on that side too. Despite the poor taste left from the dismantling at the hands of the Bills, the Patriots defense was one of the best in the league in 2021. But therein lies the problem. What does the second ranked defense get the team if it can’t stop a runny nose when it plays the Buffalo Bills?

Belichick has specific physical profiles for every position in defense, whether it be from physical measurables or agility drill times; his defensive players fit a mold.

The linebackers are big bodied thumpers. The defensive line is often stout forward players who are difficult to push backwards. The defensive backs often have top three cone drill times while his boundary guys are preferred to big taller press corners. Only at the safety position has Belichick led the transition to the hybrid types.

Patrick Chung was the first linebacker-safety hybrid but even he failed spectacularly in his first stint with the Patriots.

Against the Bills, the defense looked slow. Forget old. Even the young guys couldn’t keep up with the Allen led attack. The Pats were gashed routinely by the speed and short area quickness of the Bills skill guys.

That doesn’t include the absolute clinic put on by Josh Allen. Allen looked like the older brother who finally relented and let the younger brother and his friends play. Then the older brother showed no mercy for a physically inferior opponent.

Allen was on a different physical level and against the Patriots defense, having been unstoppable for nine straight quarters. While the Patriots may have the future figured out on offense, they aren’t going anywhere until they figure out the Josh Allen problem.

Offseason Plans

That problem will be addressed this offseason. With their current salary cap situation, they will have to choose between adding further to the offense or completely retooling the defense.

The Chiefs just beat the Bills by outscoring them. There was no stopping either offense. The only hope was to have more points than the opposition at the final whistle. That is not typically how the Patriots build their teams. They want an edge in all three phases.

The Pats could add a Davante Adams. A Chris Godwin. They could trade for Calvin Ridley. See if Michael Thomas can be had for relatively cheap. They can add to the offense, one that already features an impressive running game, and try to outscore the upper tier of AFC teams next year.

Or they can retool the defense. Focusing on smaller, faster athletic types to keep pace with the “small ball” trend in the NFL.

The Dont’a Hightower’s of the NFL world may be a dying breed. A dinosaur in a modern game. Sideline to sideline backers is the future of the game. The Deion Jones’. The Darius Leonard’s. Problem is these types of guys don’t grow on trees. The only slightly comparable veteran available in free agency may be Leighton Vander Esch. He of the full-length novel injury history. Nakobe Dean is an uber talented speedster coming out of Georgia, but any draft pick comes as a gamble in and of itself.

What does the crystal ball say?

It is increasingly unlikely the Pats pursue the number one receiver route. They are married to their free agent crop from a year ago. Agholor has a $15 million cap hit in 2022. Bourne still has two years left on his deal and is extremely affordable ($5 million per year).

The Patriots also spent at tight end. Hunter Henry has a cap hit of $6.88 million in 2022. Jonnu Smith has a $13.75 million cap hit in 2022. Smith is signed for three more years, Henry for two. The Pats aren’t moving on from either.

Smith had a disappointing year in his first in New England. Going forward, I’d expect the Patriots to try to incorporate Smith into their attack much more heavily next year before adding more to this offensive cast. They gave him all that money for a reason and hopefully that reason becomes apparent next season.

That leads to the Patriots upgrading the defense. The crop of free agent defenders features many aging veteran pass rushers and a handful of quality safeties. The Pats don’t NEED a safety as Kyle Dugger and Adrian Phillips are under team control for the foreseeable future. If McCourty hangs it up, the team could kick some tires but it won’t be a splash move.

Upgrading the front seven will be the priority. Matt Judon started on a tear but completely fell off after the bye week. Barmore appears to be the future in the interior of the defensive line. The Pats are in a mess of their own creation. Promising young players such as Josh Uche, Joejuan Williams, and Chase Winovich both hardly saw the field this season. Third round rookie Ronnie Perkins was never active on game day. Maybe they all blossom into full time impact players going forward, but there’s probably a reason they haven’t seen the field much.

The Pats are in a hole of their own creation by missing on a number of their early draft picks in recent years. Now they are faced with a near impossible task of upgrading several positions with limited cap space. Teams have been able to take advantage of rookie QB’s contract situations. The Patriots will need to get creative to do so.

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NFL Overtime Rules: What Changes are Needed?

nfl overtime rules
Josh Allen walks off the field following Buffalo’s Divisional Round loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. Credit: Sports Illustrated

In what is now widely considered one of the greatest games ever to grace the NFL playoffs, the Buffalo Bills offense sat on the sidelines and never touched the ball as Kansas City advanced to the AFC Championship game for a fourth-straight year. There are a couple schools of thought to how this game ended – let’s take a look and propose a fix to the NFL overtime rules (if needed).

Does Overtime Need to be Fixed?

I’m sure that I will get some opposing opinions, but overtime needs to be fixed. I’m not saying this just because of what happened this past Sunday, the overtime system has needed fixing for a while. I have an issue with a system that affords the potential to have the game end without a team having an opportunity to have a possession.

Baseball doesn’t stop after the visiting team scores in the top of the tenth inning (of course baseball extra innings has its own set of issues). Basketball doesn’t stop after the first basket. Hockey does have sudden death – but it’s hockey and scoring is difficult. Soccer adds an extra period and then advances to penalty kicks. So we have a wide variety to choose from, so…

Will “Spot and Choose” Fix NFL Overtime Rules?

I am not a fan of the “Spot and Choose” method of overtime that has been proposed. Moreover, I do not like the idea that it may be proposed again. One team decides where the ball will be spotted to start overtime, the other team decides offense of defense. The two options are that there is then a 10-minute, sudden-death period or another period of seven minutes and thirty seconds to see who is ahead.

I think the main reason that this method is gaining some traction is the fact that there is a time limit. Keep the timed period play of the proposal, I like that. Play out the entire period, and the team that is winning at the end is the winner *GASP* I know, novel idea.

What is the NFL Overtime Rules Fix?

First things first, no sudden death. That is my biggest issue with the current system, so why keep it? I like playing another timed period; something around 10 minutes is a good proposal. Play that period out and it finishes just like any other game.

If you want to take the special teams out of the equation for player safety (the NFL buzzword nowadays), then start with the ball on your own 25 – just like a touchback. The only thing we lose there is seeing the returners hold their arms out to the sides. If you want a coin toss to decide who gets the ball first, that’s fine. Spot the ball, and let’s go.

What if there is a tie at the end of the extra period? This is where we turn to soccer and hockey – a shootout. Incorporate the college overtime rules, but add some NFL flair to it. Start at your opponent’s 30 and try to score a touchdown. Regular NFL rules apply, four downs to get 10 yards – meaning two first downs then a goal-to-go situation.

Here’s the kicker (pardon the advance pun): no field goals in the shootout. The first team to score and keep the opponent from scoring wins. Is it unfair to take the kicker out of the equation? Perhaps. However, this proposal causes the coaches to go for the touchdown rather than play it safe. This system encourages aggressive coaching and simply leads to more exciting football.

The Final Proposal

The fix is easy. No sudden death, like the current NFL overtime. Start with the ball on your own 25 rather than kicking off, then play regular old football until the clock reaches zero. A continued tie means start with the ball at your opponent’s 30 and score a touchdown, nothing less. Score and then you play defense and stop the other team.

Is this a perfect proposal? No. But I feel it is far better than the system that the NFL currently uses, at least both teams will have a possession this way.

Patriots Playoff hopes dwindling

he Patriots’ playoff seeding is dropping quicker than the temperatures outside. Three weeks after entering their bye as the number one seed in the AFC, they find themselves as the number 6 seed and fighting for survival.

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick
Photo by Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

The Patriots’ playoff seeding is dropping quicker than the temperatures outside. Three weeks after entering their bye as the number one seed in the AFC, they find themselves as the number 6 seed and fighting for survival. Before playing the Colts, New England needed to win out to secure the coveted top spot. Now, the Patriots’ playoff chances are getting slimmer.

The Patriots’ season can be broken into three distinct parts. At the beginning of the season, the team played non-cohesive football and stumbled to a 2-4 start. The middle, when the team found its identity behind a stifling defense and a power running game to win seven straight. And now the end, where the team has reverted to its early-season miscues and overall poor play.

Troubling Trend?

Against the Colts the team played flat through three quarters before giving themselves a chance to steal it late. Against the Bills, the Patriots again showed a lack of physical edge. A month after asserting their will against this very team it was the Bills who asserted themselves. The Patriots are in freefall in the standings. Once sky-high confidence surrounding the team is nowhere to be found. How the team responds will dictate the story of their season.

The Bills came ready to play on Sunday. It was apparent from the first drive that the magnitude of the game was not lost on them. A loss to the Patriots would have all but ended their hopes of winning the AFC East. They did not play desperate. The Bills played confidently despite being down numerous starters due to injury and COVID isolation rules. They made a physical statement on their first drive and didn’t relent for the full 60 minutes.

The Patriots came out flat again. After losing to the Colts in a similar fashion a week ago, the Patriots noted that a lack of focus in practice led to their slow start. They were aware of the problem and wouldn’t let it happen again. But it did. The Patriots were flat in a game that would’ve all but guaranteed not only a playoff spot but a division title.

Where did complementary football go?

The Patriots of the seven-game winning streak were successful because of their complementary play style. That style has been missing in the last two losses. Against the Colts, the defense needed to make one final stop to give the offense a chance. Instead, Jonathan Taylor busted off a 67-yard house call to end it with two minutes left. Against the Bills, the offense and defense both failed each other.

In the second quarter, the defense held the Bills offense to a field goal attempt. The score gave the Bills a 10-7 lead. The Patriots got the ball back with a chance to at least answer, perhaps even take the lead. Instead, Mac Jones would throw his first of two interceptions three plays later.

The defense responded in an adversity situation. Defending a short field, they allowed the Bills to get to the 1-yard line before forcing a turnover on downs. The offense needed to at least gain some yardage to give the defense a breather and flip the field. Instead, a three and out.

Despite the poor play throughout the first half, the Patriots clawed their way back into the game, closing the score to 26-21. All they needed was a defensive stop to give the offense a chance to take the lead.

On the first play, after the Patriots closed the score, Allen and Diggs were on different pages. The result was an errant throw that hit ball-hawking corner JC Jackson in both hands. Jackson has made a name for himself by being a ball magnet, and on perhaps the easiest potential interception of the year, it was dropped.

That wouldn’t be the Patriots’ only chance to stop the Bills on the drive as they stuffed an Allen sneak on third down at their own 34-yard line. The Bills went for it again, as they had 3 times before in the game. A stop here would give the Patriots the ball back with plenty of time to score.

Instead, Allen ran a naked boot to convert. Never mind two Patriots defenders had a chance to drop him behind the line. The Pats just can’t get out of their own way.

What happened to the defense?

The Bills came into the game down both starting guards and lost their top back up early in the second quarter. Despite this, Allen wasn’t sacked for the first time since week 7. The Bills were also down two of their top three receivers. All usual return man Isaiah McKenzie did was go for 125 yards and a touchdown on 11 catches.

The Patriots came into the game needing to limit wide receiver Stefon Diggs (85 yards and a touchdown on seven catches) and TE Dawson Knox (11 yards and a touchdown on two catches) but instead got burnt by a guy who usually doesn’t see much offensive action.

The defense was unusually conservative, sending four-man rushes at Allen throughout the game. They played afraid of Allen extending plays and taking off on runs. Even with an eye towards limiting the backyard ball, Allen consistently found ways to improvise and was the Bills leading rusher on the day. Allen was so impressive Sunday against the Pats; the Bills became the first team to never punt against a Belichick-coached team.

Despite showing up flat against the Bills and Colts, this team has fought their way back to a position to have potentially had a chance to win both games. The loss two weeks ago should have served as a wake-up call that showing up with anything but you’re a game at this point in the schedule is a recipe for disaster. It’s now happened twice, in potentially the biggest games of the year.

If the Pats want to make anything of this season, they must return to their complementary football style. All three phases of the game need to be capable of picking each other up. If not, it may become a season of “what could have been.” If they do get back to their winning formula, perhaps we see another seven-game win streak. Which would mean the next Patriots loss would be Week 2 — of next season. Fingers crossed.